February 18, 2010
From Linh Dinh’s recent article at Commondreams.org, “Casino Time”:
The word recession, meaning a temporary dip in economic activity, was coined in 1929 during the start of the Great Depression, so even then, we were kidding ourselves. Now, after months of babbling on about “green shoots,” the main stream media, always fluffy and clueless when not outright dishonest, are starting to use “Great Recession,” but that’s still sugarcoating it. Why not the Great Recess, as in a fun pause in labor when we can all run out and play, or, better yet, let’s give a nod to Saddam Hussein and label it, properly, as the Mother of all Depressions.
In November of 1929, a month after the stock market crash, Lou Nevin recorded, “Happy days are here again, / The skies above are clear again / Let us sing a song of cheer again.” In June of 2009, eight months after another stock market collapse, the New York Times launched “Happy Days,” a series of mostly palliative, feel good articles. Like Twain was supposed to have said, “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
Happy Days was also a popular TV sitcom, of course. Airing from 1974 to 1984, it featured a loveable, corny cast of working class Americans from the 1950′s, with its most popular character a greasy (oily) mechanic and biker named Arthur Fonzarelli. When times were good, even a high school drop out could give two thumbs up and co-own a diner. Today, Fonzie would be lucky to work as a sales associate at Wal-Mart. America’s most enduring and quintessential icons, Elvis Presley, Maralyn Monroe and James Dean, all came out of the 1950′s, a decade of peak American confidence and prosperity. Many factors contributed to these good times, of course, but what’s often overlooked is that we were the biggest oil producer in the world. A nice chunk of our wealth was a godsend. We were all Beverly Hillbillies.
The oil industry started in Pennsylvania in 1859, with the first significant oil well named “Empire,” appropriately enough. Fuel and engine of the American Century, oil has allowed us to build an unprecedentedly sprawling, wasteful and alienating environment, where citizens are conditioned to spend hours sitting alone in a steel box and liking it. The car, not the eagle or cracked bell, is the symbol of American freedom, with its erratic, stop and start speed a metaphor for inevitable progress, but what happens when this joy ride stalls and we are forced to reverse? In 1953, Charles E. Wilson, President of General Motors and later, Secretary for the Department of Defense, declared to congress, “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa,” so if G.M. (and Chrysler) are near death now, are we also lying on the slab?